Reading One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest again with students, I find us wanting as readers to separate the book’s countercultural critique of the Combine from its racism and its misogyny. On race, as on gender, Kesey maps power-relationality ass-backwards. The novel erupts into an episode of cruel racial violence when black orderlies threaten to hose down the book’s white male patients. When one of the orderlies sprays a germophobic character named George, the book’s redheaded TV-cowboy brawler protagonist Randle Patrick McMurphy lashes out with racial epithets and starts swinging. In reality, of course, it was black children, not white men, who were sprayed with fire hoses on the streets of Birmingham, AL by racist white police officers on May 3, 1963, just one year after the novel’s publication. By teaching the book, the country’s racism lies there exposed: Oregon’s history as a white-only state, with laws forbidding black people from living in its borders upon its entry into the union in the midnineteenth century; the persistence of antiblack sentiment more than a hundred years later even among 1960s counterculturalists like Kesey. These are sobering facts, are they not? Even among those who had found the enlightenment of LSD, these ideas persisted. Granted, in Kesey’s case, enlightenment came courtesy of MK-Ultra. Not the most auspicious set and setting. Yet this, too, is part of the tale’s appeal. Kesey was there, present as a participant in events of world-historical importance, the effects of which are still being felt today.
I listen excitedly, hands tapping thighs, to HausLive 1: Sunwatchers at Cafe Mustache 4/13/2019 after an afternoon at the pool, swimming, reading Kiese Laymon’s Heavy.
Laymon’s prose remedies with its tender heavy murmur. He writes as a son addressing a letter to his mother. It’s a book that hits hard. Subtitled “An American Memoir,” the book allows personal and familial history to tell as well the story of the harm done by the country to black bodies: the weight of antiblackness those bodies are made to bear. His mother’s withering appraisal of Dukes of Hazzard when he was a kid forces me to reflect with disappointment upon my own upbringing. My parents thought it appropriate to dress me in a pair of Dukes of Hazzard pajamas at one point when I was a toddler. It is my duty to confront that past and live differently.